Monthly Archives: September 2013

Summary Mark Chapters 14 &15

While looking back over Chapter 15, I noticed that I had not summarized Chapter 14. Given that the two of them deal with a lot of the same themes, I believe that doing the two together will not harm either chapter. They do form something of a unit; the two together are the Passion Story, the first two stages of the narrative that ends with the Resurrection of Easter Sunday.

There is, IMO, a qualitative difference between the narrative of these two chapters and pretty much the rest of the gospel. Given this, we should be asking if, indeed, this Passion Story predated Mark. The possibility seems, well, possible. I would not, could not dismiss it out of hand without having several good reasons. Be that as it may, whether it does actually predate Mark is really not the question that should most concern us. The question that should engage us is whether if, or to what degree, this narrative is historically reliable.

This question, I think, is more acute for these two chapters than it is for most of the rest of the gospel. The narrative is presented as something much more like a recitation of historical events than the rest of the gospel. The narrative leading up to this is a series of episodes that Mark only just barely ties together. Take this from a translator: a very large number of chapters start with either “and” or “then”, or “and then”.  I have made no attempt to smooth this out, or to pretty it up, so if my translation seems jerky, it’s because the underlying Greek text is jerky.  Starting with Chapter 13–the apocalypse of Mark, as it were–this changes into something more like a unified text. Prima facie, I think this is good reason to suspect that these narratives came down to Mark more or less intact, as had the stories of the death of the Baptist or the Gerasene demonaic. As such, I think we might be well justified in believing that these narratives did predate Mark, and that he more or less swallowed them whole.

Why did he do this? Why not? Let’s continue to remind ourselves that Mark was not an historian, engaged in historical research. However these stories presented themselves  to him, they would most likely have appeared to be…sincere. That is, they would have presented a Truth, and a very obvious one,  that stood apart from any factual accuracy they may carry. And Mark was concerned with capital-T Truth. So why not include them more or less whole? (Granted, we do not–cannot–know what changes Mark may have made, so accepting them as what Mark intended them to mean is probably the best we can do as historians.) And the story of the death of the Baptist is more or less reflected in Josephus; but whether this constitutes an independent source is a matter of no small debate.

All that aside,what is in these chapters?

In the opening paragraph of this post, I said the two chapters contained similar ‘themes’; really, at root, there is basically one theme with a couple of corollaries, or sub-branches, or something. This basic theme is, I think, is this: Why was Jesus arrested and executed? Pretty much everything else hangs on that question.  We’ve gnawed on this in several different contexts, and at several different instances; what is the answer? Or, rather, what is the most likely possibility?

The one thing I think is indisputable and irrefutable is that Jesus, definitely, was executed by crucifixion. This was a huge embarrassment for the proto-church, and then the early church, so there is absolutely no motivation for them to have made this up. Quite the contrary. In addition, Paul openly states–almost seems to be bragging about it–that Jesus was crucified. Given these two sets of circumstances, I can’t imagine that there is any plausible reason to deny that the crucifixion did not occur.  So we have the what; that leaves the why.

I think that the evidence we are given from the Romans provides the most plausible explanation. I think that the story we are told as a cover does not make sense. That Jesus was executed by the Romans as an insurrectionist is likely; that Jesus was executed by the Romans at the behest of the religious authorities because they were jealous of, or threatened by Jesus, for some reason that is never actually explained is not likely. Consider that last point; there is a lot of insinuation, a lot of implication, a lot of ‘because’, but very little reason to take what is said seriously. Jesus, we are told, over and over, was popular; but when crunch time came, there is no hint that the crowd was ready or willing to riot if Jesus was to be put to death; quite the opposite, in fact. During Jesus’ apparently semi-public trial before Pilate, the crowd is against Jesus. They either don’t know who he is, or don’t care that he dies, or both. As such the cause for jealousy–which is explicitly given as the reason for Jesus being sent to Pilate–simply does not hold. Given the apparent lack of  popularity, there is no reason the religious authorities should have been jealous of Jesus.

Given this, why should we believe the repeated statements that he was as popular as Mark implies? And, if he was such a danger in Galilee, why did Herod not execute him there? Herod, in the end, was willing and able to execute the Baptist without rioting in the streets, so why not Jesus? This question is especially pertinent if we grasp that John was more popular than Jesus was at the time of the latter’s trial. There is the testimony of Josephus that Herod garnered a lot of bad press from the execution, so it is possible that Herod was once bitten, twice shy. It’s possible, but there isn’t much outside evidence for this. Josephus doesn’t give us any indication that Jesus was anything but a wonder-worker. Granted, Josephus cannot be taken at face value, but we cannot just assume that, perhaps, later Christian copyists excised anything written about Jesus being a rebel; he mentioned the political fallout of John the Baptist; why not mention it about Jesus if it was a factor? We are never told that the religious authorities suffered any sort of backlash from the arrest and execution of Jesus. As such, we are, IMO, justified to infer than there was none as Josephus reports about Herod.  Given this, the final nail is put in the coffin of the cover-story that Jesus was executed at the behest of the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

So we have that Jesus was not wildly popular. A close reading of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem revealed that Jesus was not the subject of adulation of throngs lining the streets. Rather, he was likely escorted between Bethany and the gates of Jerusalem by a group of supporters. The group may have numbered in the dozens, or perhaps the hundreds, but not in the thousands. The crowd did not turn on him between Sunday and Friday; it was never there to begin with.

So this brings us back to the Romans. We hear the term “King of the Jews” (rex Iudaorum) about half-a-dozen times in Chapter 15, We do not hear it anywhere else in all of Mark’s gospel.  This is what is written on Jesus’ cross. Ergo, the available evidence tells us that this was why he was executed. The problem is, there is very little in Jesus’ message to indicate that he was a revolutionary. Has this all been removed from the record?

And this is a crucial problem. The QHJ people, and those reconstructing “Q” all seem to think that Jesus was a wise man, a tolerant man, preaching peace and love and brotherhood; Burton Mack has compared him to a Cynic sage, in the mold of Diogenes (the dude with the lantern looking for an honest man) of Sinope, the founder of the Cynic school. Is this justified? Perhaps. Is this something that would have gotten Jesus killed by the Romans? Seems doubtful. Even Alexander the Great found Diogenes irreverent, but not threatening.

So what is happening is that I’m gradually being pushed into a Contradiction Corner here. One the one hand, I’m saying Jesus was executed as an insurrectionist; on the other, I’m saying that the evidence doesn’t support Jesus as being a rebel.  Of course, Jesus could have been executed as an insurrectionist without actually having been a rebel. But isn’t that the story as we are told, that I don’t believe? The answer is yes. Well, sort of. The difference, the crucial difference is, IMO, who initiated the arrest process.

It would be ever-so-nice to know why Jesus was arrested and executed. But it would also be nice if money grew on trees; being nice doesn’t count for much on the reality scale. I’m not sure we know, or will ever know why Jesus was arrested. And this not-knowing is intolerable for a lot of people. Those who are on religious or spiritual quests are not looking for uncertainty, or  “we’ll never know” sorts of answers. Exactly the opposite. I don’t think Paul knew why Jesus was executed, and I’m darn-near certain that he didn’t care. But Paul was an exceptional, at least an unusual person, The not-knowing didn’t bother him because he had the Knowing that faith in the Christ was sufficient for salvation, however he conceived that. For other people, I suspect the narrative and the reasons why mattered. That is, I think, why the gospels were written in the first place: to provide a narrative that ‘filled in the blanks’ left by preaching such as Paul carried out.

As mentioned, Albert Schweitzer is on record saying that Jesus’ execution must have been dependent on Jesus’ teaching. IMO, this is simply neither true nor necessary. It was enough that the Romans thought he was a revolutionary; the actual facts of the case didn’t matter to them. If Jesus called himself, or if others around him called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the latent political implications of the word were probably enough justification for the Romans.  I think that is the most likely scenario, especially since I think this is what we find between the lines of Chapters 14 & 15.

Mark Chapter 15:33-47 (conclusion)

This will end Chapter 15. Technically, it is probably the end of the gospel as Mark wrote it. Early versions of Mark do not have a Chapter 16, which means that they do not have a resurrection story. Now, given that Paul was talking about the resurrected Christ, this makes for a very interesting dynamic. That discussion will have to wait until we get to Chapter 16.

33 Καὶ γενομένης ὥρας ἕκτης σκότος ἐγένετο ἐφ’ ὅλην τὴν γῆν ἕως ὥρας ἐνάτης.

And having become the sixth hour. darkness fell upon the entire land until the ninth hour.

Per what we were told before in verse 25, Jesus was crucified at nine am; it’s now noon, so Jesus has been on the cross for three hours when darkness spreads over all the land until three in the afternoon.

33 Et, facta hora sexta, tenebrae factae sunt per totam terram usque in horam nonam.

34 καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, Ελωι ελωι λεμα σαβαχθανι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

And at the ninth hour Jesus shouted in a loud voice. “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabnachthani.”  Which is translated, “O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Once again Mark translated the Aramaic. Now, it’s occurred to me to wonder if these translations of Aramaic were original Mark, or if they were added by later redactors. A chunk of the argument that Mark wrote outside of Judea/Palestine is based on these translations, the assumption being that the audience did not know Aramaic. But what if Mark’s audience did know it, and that later editors put in the translations when a wider didn’t know. Because we have to ask why Mark included the Aramaic? The most obvious reason (to my mind, anyway) is that he was simply have been trying to quote Jesus as accurately as possible, so he was using the original. Of course, this leads to the question of whether Mark had any idea of Jesus’ actual words, either here, or when he healed Jairus’ daughter, or whenever else Mark has Jesus speaking in Aramaic. 

This of course is simply the question of the reliability of the sources available to Mark. 

One final thing. If Mark included the Aramaic, but not the translation, this seriously undercuts the idea that Mark wrote in Rome, or elsewhere, somewhere that Aramaic was not understood. Now, the theory that Mark wrote in Rome has come into question; some now see Syria as a likely origen.

34 Et hora nona exclamavit Iesus voce magna: “ Heloi, Heloi, lema sabacthani? ”, quod est interpretatum: “ Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? ”.

35 καί τινες τῶν παρεστηκότων ἀκούσαντες ἔλεγον, Ἴδε Ἠλίαν φωνεῖ.

And some of those standing around, hearing (him) said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”

Now this is where the question of language becomes really important. Why didn’t the bystanders understand Jesus? If  Aramaic was the spoken language of the time (it was), then we would presume those hearing the words would speak the language, too. And no, this wasn’t the Romans or Greek speakers saying this; as pagans, they would have no clue about who Elijah was, so those uttering these words must have been Jewish. What makes this even more complicated is that this is not a random utterance that was perhaps misunderstood; Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. So, most Jews could be expected to know this (? I’m really not sure about that, but Jews, as a whole, were well-versed in their scripture.) It is, of course, possible that those at the base of the cross were not particularly knowledgeable, or maybe they were from out-of-town, say from Cappadocia, so they didn’t understand Aramaic, and they heard “Eloi” as sounding more or less like “Elijah”.

My personal sense here is that none of this is authentic. Mark–or his source–thought the citation of the Psalm would be good drama, and so he quoted it–in the Aramaic text that was in common use at the time. Then, for additional drama, Mark put these words into the mouths of the bystanders to demonstrate even more how clueless they were. The whole idea of people not understanding Jesus is a theme for Mark; several times he is said to be exasperated by the lack of understanding of his followers, or those listening to him.

35 Et quidam de circumstantibus audientes dicebant: “ Ecce, Eliam vocat ”.

36 δραμὼν δέ τις [καὶ] γεμίσας σπόγγον ὄξους περιθεὶς καλάμῳἐπότιζεν αὐτόν, λέγων, Ἄφετε ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας καθελεῖν αὐτόν.

36 Currens autem unus et implens spongiam aceto circumponensque calamo potum dabat ei dicens: “ Sinite, videamus, si veniat Elias ad deponendum eum ”.

37 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀφεὶς φωνὴν μεγάλην ἐξέπνευσεν.

And Jesus, sighing in a loud voice, breathed his last (lit = ‘despirited’. Latin translates this, quite literally as ‘expired’).

The last word is interesting. It means that his spirit went out of him. “Spirit” here, as in “breath”. That is, his breath went out of him. So, here we have something running contrary to the idea of a ‘holy spirit’ as an entity separate from either God the Father or Jesus. At least, it should caution us to read the word “spirit” without too many assumptions, or reading too much into it from our 2,000 years of tradition.

37 Iesus autem, emissa voce magna, exspiravit.

38 Καὶ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη εἰς δύο ἀπ’ ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω.

And the curtain of the temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom.

This is one of the supernatural events, intended, no doubt, to demonstrate the supernatural status of Jesus. But why this?  Why the temple veil? Is this to indicate that the secrets of Judaism had been revealed? And that they were shown to be empty? There is some deep symbolism here. What it is can be debated.

38 Et velum templi scissum est in duo a sursum usque deorsum.

39 Ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ κεντυρίων ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐξ ἐναντίας αὐτοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἐξέπνευσεν εἶπεν, Ἀληθῶς οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος υἱὸςθεοῦ ἦν.

But seeing the centurion standing around opposite  him that expiring in this way he said, “Truly, this man was the son of God.”

And another piece of testimony to Jesus’ identity. Here is where I really feel a seam in the source  material. Throughout much of this gospel, I’ve noted a number of places where Mark is ambiguous–at best–about Jesus’ divinity. I’ve noted other places–the Transfiguration, and Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ–when it’s like another layer has been grafted on with the specific purpose of telling the audience that, yes, Jesus was divine. Another reason to suggest that this section was grafted onto a different tradition is the use of the term ‘son of God’. This is the term Matthew uses most often; as such, I believe it represents either a later, or just a different (or both) tradition from Mark’s primary source, which uses the more ambiguous term ‘son of man’. 

But ‘son of God’, IMO, is not necessarily the same as ‘God’, or even ‘god’, let alone ‘co-equal, co-eternal, of the same substance, etc’. Remember: Jesus told us to pray to “Our Father”. And Paul used the same expression: God the Father. This necessarily implies that we are all ‘sons and daughters of God’. While throwing around a word like ‘necessarily’ implies a level of philosophical rigour, that Jesus sat down and reasoned this all out ahead of time–which is doubtless not the case–it is another instance of a term that should give us pause before we interpret this as if the centurion said, “Truly, this was God the Son, second person of the Trinity’. The centurion said no such thing. This, plus the fact that this is Matthew’s preferred term should alert us that this part, at least, of the narrative came from a different source as much of the other gospel. It may even be the case that this little exchange was added by a later redactor of the gospel.

39 Videns autem centurio, qui ex adverso stabat, quia sic clamans exspirasset, ait: “ Vere homo hic Filius Dei erat ”.

40 ησαν δὲ καὶ γυναῖκες ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι, ἐν αἷς καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρίαἡ Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ Ἰωσῆτος μήτηρ καὶ Σαλώμη,

There were some women looking on from a distance. Among them was Mary Magdelene and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Josetos and Salome.

Now this is really interesting. It seems we’ve run into another consensus opinion on who these people were. First, note who’s not present: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Or is she? Back in 6:3, we were told that Jesus had a brothers named James and Joses; here we’re told that the mother of James and Joses was present. Matthew, Luke, and John all ‘clarify’ the identity of these women by adding additional information, but why are we to suppose that they had better–as in, more accurate–information than Mark who was a decade or two closer to the event?

Personally, my sense is that the other three evangelists took some pains to straighten out the record, to add, to explain, to clarify, but who’s to say they weren’t making it up? From the historical point of view, I am extremely reluctant to take anything the others say as historically accurate. I would need a really good reason to do so. Rather than expanding on the record, and clarifying the facts, what the other three evangelists do is document how the beliefs of the early Jesus-followers evolved and developed over time.

Why is James the Lesser (younger) not James, brother of Jesus? Mark is completely silent on this. As of this writing, I suspect that James the Lesser and James the brother of Jesus are the same person. It only makes sense. Paul doesn’t tell us a lot, just that James, brother of the Lord was running the show in Jerusalem. It seems a bit odd that someone not associated with the Jesus group during the latter’s lifetime would swoop in and take charge of the group after Jesus died. James the brother is not mentioned in any of the gospels, and that seems borderline bizarre if he was the person who became the leader of the group after Jesus’ death.

Bear in mind that, per Josephus, James the brother was killed sometime in the early 60s, before the outbreak of the Jewish War. That would have been a good ten years before Mark wrote. And, if Mark wrote somewhere other than Jerusalem, as seems likely, then there were two reasons to downplay the role of brother James: he was dead and his assembly no longer existed.

So, personally, I believe that this Mary is, indeed, the mother not only of James and Joses and Salome, but of Jesus, too. By the time Mark wrote, this tradition still existed, but the role of James–the lesser–was being downplayed, so Mary’s relationship to Jesus is not even mentioned here. Later, Matthew would revive Mary’s role, while completely expunging the record of any trace of Jesus’ brothers being present at the crucifixion.

And, as relatives of the condemned man, it’s no wonder that they watched ‘from a distance’. This detail seems quite believable.

40 Erant autem et mulieres de longe aspicientes, inter quas et Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi minoris et Iosetis mater et Salome,

41αἳ ὅτε ἦν ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἄλλαι πολλαὶ αἱ συναναβᾶσαι αὐτῷ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα.

In Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and many other women went up to Jerusalem with him.

Mary of Magdala deserves some mention. There is absolutely no reason to believe she was the woman who anointed Jesus with the nard back in Chapter 11. In fact, this sentence pretty much directly refutes the possibility. That woman was unnamed, and the sense is that she was a stranger. OTOH, we are told here that Mary M was a long-time adherent of Jesus. And who would have been more natural to ‘minister’ to Jesus than his own mother? And the chances of Mary M having been a prostitute are about nil as well. If we can draw from the situation we encounter in Paul, women of some substance were in many ways the backbone of the early Jesus movement.

Likely widows of means, they provided food and shelter and a place for the assembly to meet. Despite being widows, they would not necessarily have been very old, since it was not unusual for an older, established man to marry a young girl, probably just after she hit puberty. As RL Fox points out, as time went on, it became common for the new Christian presbyters to enjoin these women not to remarry, but to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. Some of this may have been due to a sincere belief that celibacy was somehow a superior state, but some of it may have been with an eye to seeing that these widows, unmarried at death, would pass their property on to the fledgling church. Had they remarried, their means would have become the property of the new husband. In fact, this was a large part of the impetus to maintain priestly celibacy; not because Jesus wasn’t married, but to try to prevent the priests from passing their property to their heirs, rather than having it revert to the church.

So there are two points here: the first is that these two verses about the women have a ring of real plausibility about them. The second is that a consensus understanding of who these women were has been reached, and it has been maintained somewhat contrary to what the text is saying.

41 quae, cum esset in Galilaea, sequebantur eum et ministrabant ei, et aliae multae, quae simul cum eo ascenderant Hierosolymam.

42 Καὶ ἤδη ὀψίας γενομένης, ἐπεὶ ἦν παρασκευή, ὅ ἐστιν προσάββατον,

And it then it was becoming evening, which was the day of preparation, that is the day before the Sabbath, 

42 Et cum iam sero esset factum, quia erat Parasceve, quod est ante sabbatum,

43 ἐλθὼν Ἰωσὴφ [ὁ] ἀπὸ Ἁριμαθαίας εὐσχήμων βουλευτής, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν προσδεχόμενος τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, τολμήσας εἰσῆλθεν πρὸς τὸν Πιλᾶτον καὶ ᾐτήσατοτὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Joseph of Arimathea, an esteemed (member) of the council, who himself also expected the kingdom of God, being daring, came in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

43 venit Ioseph ab Arimathaea nobilis decurio, qui et ipse erat exspectans regnum Dei, et audacter introivit ad Pilatum et petiit corpus Iesu.

44 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἐθαύμασεν εἰ ἤδη τέθνηκεν, καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν κεντυρίωνα ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν εἰ πάλαι ἀπέθανεν:

And Pilate marveled if he had already died, and calling the centurion asked him of he had already died.

One wonders if this was the centurion who proclaimed Jesus to be the son of God? Not necessarily; if the cohort had been sent out, it’s possible there would have been two centurions present. The best way to think of a centurion, I suppose, is as a senior non-commissioned officer; a sergeant, and specifically a sergeant-major is probably the best equivalent. And while he originally commanded a hundred men (a ‘century’, hence the name), as time went on the unit he commanded had shrunk to 60-80 men. This slightly smaller unit was tactically more versatile. So if a cohort of 120 or so had been sent out, it’s likely that two centurions would have been in charge. But it’s moot; Pilate would have sent a messenger to check with the centurion in charge, who would then haver returned with the report. So some time would have elapsed.

44 Pilatus autem miratus est si iam obisset, et, accersito centurione, interrogavit eum si iam mortuus esset,

45 καὶ γνοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ κεντυρίωνος ἐδωρήσατο τὸ πτῶμα τῷ Ἰωσήφ.

And having learned from the centurion he gave the corpse to Joseph.

I should be saying something about Joseph of Arimathea, but I don’t think there’s really anything to say. These few verses represent the sum-total of our knowledge of him.  Legends and stories grew up about him, but most of them are apocryphal. For example, in the Arthur legend as told by Malory, he was the one who brought the Holy Grail (Sangraal) to England, and he was a relative of Jesus. But there is no real basis for believing most of these stories. I suppose there’s no reason why he couldn’t have been a member of the Council, and no reason that he couldn’t have been the one who had the body taken down. 

Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about the whole Preparation Day bit. Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies on the cross for days. In the Roman mind, the more gruesome the spectacle of the decomposing body, being picked at by scavengers, the better the lesson in civic obedience they were trying to teach. And this would explain why Pilate would have been surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead; crucifixion was a slow, agonizing process.

Here’s an idea. There is a discrepancy between John and the other evangelists as to whether Jesus was arrested on the night of Passover, or the day before. What if John was correct, but that Jesus hung on the cross for an entire 24-hour span, stretching to the day before the Passover? This is speculation on my part, but it would solve the problem of the discrepancy. Of course, the issue with this is, why would John be correct on the day of the arrest, writing a full generation after Luke? That, frankly, seems unlikely.

45 et, cum cognovisset a centurione, donavit corpus Ioseph.

46 καὶ ἀγοράσας σινδόνα καθελὼν αὐτὸν ἐνείλησεν τῇ σινδόνι καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὸν ἐν μνημείῳ ὃ ἦν λελατομημένον ἐκ πέτρας, καὶ προσεκύλισεν λίθον ἐπὶ τὴν θύραν τοῦ μνημείου.

And having purchased linen took him down, wrapped (him) in the linen) and placed him in a tomb which was hewn from the rock, and he rolled a stone upon the door of the tomb.

Interesting detail about the stone: it was, apparently, circular. Note that Mark does not call it a ‘large’ stone as Matthew does. This question is perhaps more appropriate for Matthew, but, then again, maybe not. 

46 Is autem mercatus sindonem et deponens eum involvit sindone et posuit eum in monumento, quod erat excisum de petra, et advolvit lapidem ad ostium monumenti.

47 ἡ δὲ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ Ἰωσῆτος ἐθεώρουν ποῦ τέθειται.

Then Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where he was placed. 

47 Maria autem Magdalene et Maria Iosetis aspiciebant, ubi positus esset.

That, technically, is the end of Mark’s gospel. Chapter 16, that I will begin shortly, does not seem to have been part of the original text. Perhaps as we read through it, we can get a better sense of whether this truly seems to belong to Mark or not.

I have to say, though, that this is rather an abrupt ending. Or, rather, leaving off verse 47 really makes for a more logical break-point, with Jesus in the tomb. Having the two Marys watching where Jesus was buried is a bit of a cliff-hanger, or it at least anticipates something more to come. Perhaps this was a later addition? Along with the rest of Chapter 16?

Mark Chapter 15:21-32

We proceed to the crucifixion.

21 Καὶ ἀγγαρεύουσιν παράγοντά τινα Σίμωνα Κυρηναῖον ἐρχόμενον ἀπ’ ἀγροῦ, τὸν πατέρα Ἀλεξάνδρου καὶ Ῥούφου, ἵνα ἄρῃ τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ.

And they pressed into service a certain passerby Simon of Cyrene coming from the country (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus) in order that he carry his (Jesus’) cross.

[ <<  ἀπ’ ἀγροῦ >> most literally means ‘from the field(s)’, but it also can be more generic: the place where the fields are; i.e. ‘the country’. Also, recall that the punctuation you see in the Greek is wholly of modern provenance, so it is a convention. As such, I found the parenthetical insert more appropriate than sentence divisions. ]

One reason I chose ‘from the country’ is that I am unsure how to take the ‘of Cyrene’, To the best of my knowledge, the reference is to the city/state in North Africa, sort of on the border between modern Libya and Egypt. Are we to take this that he was originally from Cyrene, but was now living in Judea? Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had fields in the vicinity, and he wouldn’t have been a ‘passerby’, but someone perhaps in Jerusalem for the Passover.

Second, I believe this very much supports what I’ve been saying about Roman lack of concern for things like civil rights. They basically grab someone walking by, minding their own business, and compel him to help in the nasty work of crucifixion. This illustrates my point that they would not have had much compunction about arresting Jesus on any pretext whatsoever.

Third, what are the chances that we know not only the guy’s name, but also his sons’ names? How did this particular bit of information end up in the source material? Did someone interview him afterwards, get his statement? One possible scenario is that he ended up as part of the Jesus Assembly that came to be led by James, brother of Jesus. Outside of that, the likelihood that we actually know the man’s name is pretty slim.

21 Et angariant praetereuntem quempiam Simonem Cyrenaeum venientem de villa, patrem Alexandri et Rufi, ut tolleret crucem eius.

22 καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Γολγοθᾶν τόπον, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Κρανίου Τόπος.

And they bore him up to the place Golgotha, which is translated: the place of the skull. 

Here is how it became known as ‘Calvary’. As a kid, always sort of assumed that it had this grim name–place of the skull–because it was an execution ground. However, note that Golgotha is translated into Latin as ‘calvaria’. The Latin word ‘calvus’ means ‘bald’, as in ‘hairless’. So Golgotha was so-named because it was bare ground in the general shape of a cranium. A good analogy, I think is the estate of the Bolkonskys in War and Peace;  sometimes the name is rendered as “Bare Hills”, and by others as “Bald Hills”.

22 Et perducunt illum in Golgotha locum, quod est interpretatum Calvariae locus.

23 καὶ ἐδίδουν αὐτῷ ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον, ὃς δὲ οὐκ ἔλαβεν.

And they gave him wine mingled with myrrh, which he did not take.

There was, apparenly, a practice of mixing wine and myrrh (as in, gold, frankincense, and … ). Now, per the gifts of the Magi, we are to assume this was an expensive commodity; why it was mixed with wine and given to a common criminal about to be executed seems a bit…extravagant. So bottom line is I’m not competent to comment on this. Apologies.

23 Et dabant ei myrrhatum vinum; ille autem non accepit.

24 καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν καὶ διαμερίζονται τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, βάλλοντες κλῆρον ἐπ’ αὐτὰ τίς τί ἄρῃ.

And they crucified him and divided his garment, throwing lots upon it for whom would carry it (as in, ‘carry it off as a possession’).

I always found this another odd comment. It’s just odd enough to be authentic. But then again, it was probably not an unusual practice. Assuming that Jesus was of some means, his clothes may have been of a superior grade to those worn by most of the common criminals, or brigands, or whatever that the soldiers crucified, so maybe there was particular interest in them.

24 Et crucifigunt eum et dividunt eius, mittentes sortem super eis, quis quid tolleret.

25 ἦν δὲ ὥρα τρίτη καὶ ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτόν.

It was the third hour and they crucified him.

Recall we had a discussion about the Roman system of time; the day started at 6:00 am. The ‘third hour’ therefore is about 9 in the morning. This is another indication that they wasted no time on this. The process began first thing in the morning. Now, crucifixion was a long, slow, painful process, so it was best to get it going early. Even so, it sometimes took a day or two before the victim died of asphyxiation as the rib cage moved up and choked off the windpipe.

25 Erat autem hora tertia, et crucifixerunt eum.

26 καὶ ἦν ἡ ἐπιγραφὴ τῆς αἰτίας αὐτοῦ ἐπιγεγραμμένη, Ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων.

And there was the epigraph (a direct transliteration, minus a final vowel) of the cause written above him, “The King of the Jews”.

The Greek does not hesitate to be redundant: “the epigraph written above (epigram-mene)”, Even the Latin shies away from this, calling the epigraph (lit = ‘the thing written above’) a ‘titulus’, a ‘title’.

Other gospels say that it was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”; and this is usually depicted as “INRI” in Christian artwork. That is, the art depicts the inscription in Latin, rather than Greek. But then, up until a certain point in art history, depictions of Jesus–or of Alexander the Great, for that matter–showed the ancients dressed the way that the artists painting the scene would have been dressed. Michaelangelo took the easy way out and sculpted his David in the nude.

Is this an ironic inscription? Here, I think that I agree with Aslan: the Romans generally were not ironic about the charges they made. Not overly concerned about accuracy, or careless would probably fit, as would ‘ready to crucify ten innocent subjects to get the one guilty party’, But ironic? Not so much, I think. What this then means is that Jesus was, most likely, arrested and crucified as a rabble-rouser, or an insurrectionist; however, what the actual charge was, and whether he was guilty–or exactly how guilty–are another matter altogether. We have no way of making anything like an accurate assessment of how guilty Jesus might have been. The gospels or Paul’s letters simply are not reliable source material for making this kind of judgement, and there is no extra-biblical evidence to speak of. The passage of Josephus is borderline unreliable; this passage, in my opinion, may indicate that Jesus was an historical person, but anything beyond that is highly speculative. There is, again in my opinion, every reason to believe that this passage has been heavily doctored by Christian copyists to make it conform to Christian doctrine.

So, what to make of this? It’s very hard to say. Read Aslan’s book and see if he’s convincing. No, I’m not a paid shill.

26 Et erat titulus causae eius inscriptus: “ Rex Iudaeorum ”.

27 Καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ σταυροῦσιν δύο λῃστάς, ἕνα ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων αὐτοῦ.

And with him they crucified two brigands, one on the right, and one on the left of him.

Here’s that word: << λῃστάς >>. We spoke about it earlier; in Chapter 1, Aslan claims it was reserved for insurrectionists; apparently, this is how Josephus used it. I can say that the Latin translation, << latrones >> decidedly does not have this implication. Indeed, per Liddell and Scott, the Classical uses are for other things than insurrectionist. Now, one interesting thought is that these two were arrested with Jesus; perhaps they were guilty, and Jesus just got caught up in the crossfire, but this is pure speculation on my part. And if Barabbas was factual, it would be more likely that they were arrested with him. And we cannot take the conversation between the three at all seriously; one jeers at Jesus, the other proclaims Jesus’ innocence. This is the story of the followers of Jesus, and not likely to be a reflection of anything that happened.

And it is significant, IMO, that Barabbas was not called << λῃστὴρ >>.

27 Et cum eo crucifigunt duos latrones, unum a dextris et alium a sinistris eius.

28 Καὶ 29 οἱ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν καὶ λέγοντες, Οὐὰ ὁ καταλύωντὸν ναὸν καὶ οἰκοδομῶν ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις,

(Two verses combined)

And those walking about blasphemed him, moving (i.e., shaking) their heads and saying, “Bah, the one destroying the temple and building it in three days, (cont’d in next verse)

(28) 29 Et praetereuntes blasphemabant eum moventes capita sua et dicentes: “ Vah, qui destruit templum et in tribus diebus aedificat;

30 σῶσον σεαυτὸν καταβὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ.

“Save yourself coming down from the cross”.

Note the use of ‘blaspheme’. So far, this word has only been used as a charge against Jesus; here, it’s being leveled in Jesus’ behalf. This, I think, pretty clearly represents a much later layer of comment, one added well after the identity of Jesus as the Divine Son had long-since been established. I do not believe it fits with the rest of the way Jesus is portrayed by Mark. Nor do I believe it is something that Mark found in the sources/tradition. 

30 salvum fac temet ipsum descendens de cruce! ”.

31 ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐμπαίζοντες πρὸς ἀλλήλους μετὰ τῶν γραμματέων ἔλεγον, Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται σῶσαι:

In the same way the high priests joking amongst themselves with the scribes said, “He saved others, himself he is unable to save.”

We talked about ‘saved’ back in Chapter 10, during the discussion about ‘saving one’s life’, etc. At the time, we discussed how, to latter-day Christians, it is impossible to read ‘saved’ and not think about the eternal life aspect. Even as a kid, that was how I heard the term ‘saved’ as used here (maybe I was just a dullard?) OTOH, here, I think, it is very, very clearly a matter of Jesus saving his physical, corporeal, earthly existence. As such, I do believe Mark may have found this in the sources that he used. There is a definite step involved, to go from ‘physical life’ to ‘eternal life’, and it has not been taken here. That, I believe, puts it squarely into the ‘before Mark’ source material.

The word is used in 10-12 instances (depending on how you define ‘instance’) in Mark. In close to half of them, it is essentially a synonym for ‘healed’. It is used this way of the bleeding woman and bar Timaios. In three more instances, it is used as in, ‘to save a life’ as we would use the term. This is obviously one of them. This leaves three others in which there is at least the implicit implication (redundant!) of something beyond the physical life. These include the question about ‘who can be saved’ in 10:26; the idea that those holding out to the end will be saved in 13:13; and one to come in 16:16, which, technically. probably does not belong to Mark.

31 Similiter et summi sacerdotes ludentes ad alterutrum cum scribis dicebant: “ Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere.

32 ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἰσραὴλ καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ, ἵνα ἴδωμεν καὶ πιστεύσωμεν. καὶ οἱ συνεσταυρωμένοι σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν.

“Oh, you the Christ, the King of Israel, come down not from the cross, so that we will know and we will believe.” And those crucified with him reproached him.

32 Christus rex Israel descendat nunc de cruce, ut videamus et credamus ”. Etiam qui cum eo crucifixi erant, conviciabantur ei.

Oops. I sort of assumed (bad idea!) that we would have the conflict between the other two being crucified, one jeering and one asking to be remembered.  I guess not. Interesting how that is not embedded in the lower stratum of the story. They all jeer Jesus. This is of a piece with my suggestions that Mark, having built up Jesus’ popularity, had to tear it down in a big hurry at the end. It happens here, too.

Mark Chapter 15:11-20

Please note that I published the section on 15:1-10 just before publishing this one. Given the nature of blogs, the newer material ends up on top of the older material. So you may need to scroll down to the first section of Chapter 15. The thing was, given the lack of a natural break, I didn’t want a lag time between the first section of 15:1-10 and this one dealing with 15:11-20.

Recall, we were just told that Pilate knew that the high priests had handed Jesus over out of jealousy.

11οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς ἀνέσεισαν τὸν ὄχλον ἵνα μᾶλλον τὸν Βαραββᾶν ἀπολύσῃ αὐτοῖς.

The high priests stirred up the crowd in order that more he would release Barabbas to them.

Again, getting Pilate off the hook.

11 Pontifices autem concitaverunt turbam, ut magis Barabbam dimitteret eis.

12 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος πάλιν ἀποκριθεὶς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τί οὖν [θέλετε]ποιήσω [ὃν λέγετε] τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Ἰουδαίων;

But Pilate again asking, said to them, “Why thus [do you wish] that I will do this [to the one you call] the king of the Jews?”

Is this significant? To the one you call the King of the Jews? IOW, I don’t call him that. You do. Recall, that we did not hear the term before he used it. Or am I just starting to pick up at all the minor and not-signficant points?

12 Pilatus autem iterum respondens aiebat illis: “ Quid ergo vultis faciam regi Iudaeorum? ”.

13 οἱ δὲ πάλιν ἔκραξαν, Σταύρωσον αὐτόν.

And again, they cried, “Crucify him?”

Again? When did they say this before? Did something get cut out?

13 At illi iterum clamaverunt: “ Crucifige eum! ”.

14 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τί γὰρ ἐποίησεν κακόν; οἱ δὲ περισσῶς ἔκραξαν, Σταύρωσον αὐτόν.

But Pilate he said to them, “Why, for what has he done bad?” They shouted harder, “Crucify him.”

Pilate is absolving Jesus of any crime. He didn’t think Jesus should be killed. The crowd, however, whipped up by the chief priests, apparently feels differently.

14 Pilatus vero dicebat eis: “ Quid enim mali fecit? ”. At illi magis clamaverunt: “ Crucifige eum! ”.

15 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος βουλόμενος τῷ ὄχλῳ τὸ ἱκανὸν ποιῆσαι ἀπέλυσεν αὐτοῖς τὸν Βαραββᾶν, καὶ παρέδωκεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν φραγελλώσας ἵνα σταυρωθῇ.

But Pilate wishing to make it sufficient (to satisfy) the crowd released to them Barabbas. And he handed Jesus having been scourged over to be crucified.

So, just so we’re clear, Pilate is only doing this to satisfy the crowd. Just to remember, Pilate did not have to keep the religious authorities happy; they had to keep him happy. He could have them replaced. He could have them sent to Rome for trial and execution. Yes, there is a lot about how the religious authorities were keenly aware of all this, which is why they moved heaven and earth to get Jesus executed. But Pilate–the Romans in general–would probably have been happy to execute anyone the local authorities said was a problem. That we are told the locals had to move heaven and earth, to whip up the crowd artificially, in order to get him to execute a troublemaker seems very suspicious. Yes, both the locals and the Romans managed better if they worked together; so if the locals said someone was a troublemaker and should be executed, then the Romans would, normally, be happy to comply. Hey–it kept the local authorities happy and made the Romans’ job easier.

So all of this appears to be constructed solely to exculpate the Romans. Is there another possibility? No doubt, but I have not been able to think of what it might be. I am willing to listen to suggestions.

15 Pilatus autem, volens populo satisfacere, dimisit illis Barabbam et tradidit Iesum flagellis caesum, ut crucifigeretur.

16 Οἱ δὲ στρατιῶται ἀπήγαγον αὐτὸν ἔσω τῆς αὐλῆς, ὅ ἐστιν πραιτώριον, καὶ συγκαλοῦσιν ὅλην τὴν σπεῖραν.

And the soldiers led him out into the courtyard, that which was the Praetorium, and they called together the entire maniple.

We have a bit of a conflict here. Per Liddell and Scott, the last word in the verse was used as the translation of the Roman maniple, which was a tactical unit of the legion. But the Latin says ‘cohort’, which was an organizational unit of the legion. The maniple consisted of 120 men; the cohort of 480. In this instance, I would suspect the smaller number was probably the unit to be used for execution duty. I doubt that a cohort of 480 men would have been dispatched for an execution.

16 Milites autem duxerunt eum intro in atrium, quod est praetorium, et convocant totam cohortem.

17 καὶ ἐνδιδύσκουσιν αὐτὸν πορφύραν καὶ περιτιθέασιν αὐτῷ πλέξαντες ἀκάνθινον στέφανον:

And him having been dressed in purple and placed around his head a crown woven of thorns.

17 Et induunt eum purpuram et imponunt ei plectentes spineam coronam;

18 καὶ ἤρξαντο ἀσπάζεσθαι αὐτόν, Χαῖρε, βασιλεῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων:

And they began to salute him, “Hail, king of the Jews.”

Given this level of detail about the purple robe, the crown, and the mocking homage, I sort of get the sense that the charge written above him, (Rex Iudaeorum) may actually be historical. I’m not sold, but it seems entirely possible.  That this was the charge against Jesus is the simplest explanation that would account for all of these details. Otherwise, this all becomes a very elaborate…hoax? That’s not the right word. Theme? But, given the charge, then the rest of this follows easily; it makes sense, it fits the theme, even if it’s not exactly historically accurate. How could it be? Who was inside the Praetorium that would have acted as a source for the story? Yes, it’s possible that there were later followers who had known someone on the inside, but it’s much more credible that all of these details are a very elaborate fiction.

Now, always, always, bear in mind that the person creating this story would have been horrified at being called a liar.  The people who created these stories were interested in capital-T Truth, and not in historical accuracy. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Even the ‘scientific’ historian Thucydides had no qualms about passing off ‘the sort of thing that would have been said’ when he reports speeches for which he was not personally present. Had Jesus been charged with being “King of the Jews”, then the rest of these details would easily have followed.

18 et coeperunt salutare eum: “ Ave, rex Iudaeorum! ”,

19 καὶ ἔτυπτον αὐτοῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν καλάμῳ καὶ ἐνέπτυον αὐτῷ, καὶ τιθέντες τὰ γόνατα προσεκύνουν αὐτῷ.

And they struck his head with a staff and spat upon him, and getting on their knees (genuflecting) they paid him homage.

19 et percutiebant caput eius arundine et conspuebant eum et ponentes genua adorabant eum.

20 καὶ ὅτε ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ, ἐξέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὴν πορφύραν καὶ ἐνέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐξάγουσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα σταυρώσωσιν αὐτόν.

And they mocked him, removing the purple (robe) and dressing him with his own robe. And they led him out in order to crucify him.

20 Et postquam illuserunt ei, exuerunt illum purpuram et induerunt eum vestimentis suis. Et educunt illum, ut crucifigerent eum.

This section went much more quickly than 1-10. The narrative, in this case, was fairly straightforward. The big questions is the genesis of the ‘king of the Jews’ title. 

Honestly,  this title–or this charge–lends a lot of prima facie weight to contention that Jesus was a patriot, of some sort or another, an advocate for independence from Rome. There is one thing that troubles me: we are told that Jesus was crucified with two others, and that the term for them was the word that Aslan claims was reserved for insurrectionists. So let’s say that is correct. Is it that these two were arrested with Jesus? That all three of them were picked up in the same group? Now, I don’t imagine Romans doing sting operations; generally, their method was to smash their way into a crowd, round up all those who seemed to be up to no good, and hauling them away. Was Jesus part of a crowd that got too raucous? Did he try to preach the coming kingdom of God, and then his act got stolen when a couple of insurrectionists used the gathered crowd to shout anti-Roman slogans? Which then got the crowd riled to the point where the Romans came in, grabbed the ringleaders, and hauled them away.

Another possibility is that Jesus was arrested when he attempted to ‘clear the Temple’ of the moneychangers. He threw over a table, the authorities reacted by calling in the Romans, and Jesus got hauled away.  Now this doesn’t square with the narrative, in which Jesus goes back to the Temple the following day, but a rearrangement of the chronology is certainly well within the realm of possibility. 

The problem is that there is very little in what we have read so far to indicate that Jesus had any real sort of political agenda. Granted, this may reflect a ‘scrubbing’ of the story. The ideas of a kingdom of God and the Christ are not without political implications.  I do believe (at/for the moment, anyway) that Jesus was executed for political crimes. What I’m not sure about is the extent to which he was actually guilty. The fact that Mark goes out of his way to insist that this was not the case, that he was executed at the behest of the religious authorities, for religious reasons, that the trial before Pilate is structured as it is, and that the words put into Pilate’s mouth, all seem to indicate a degree of cover-up. But what degree? Was Jesus executed because ‘Christ’ had overtones that the Romans didn’t like? Or they didn’t like the sound of a ‘kingdom of God’, even though Jesus meant these terms in a non-political sense?  Or was he executed exactly because he did have a political agenda? Because he considered the Christ, and the idea of a Kingdom of God to be overtly political matters?

I’m honestly not sure. My training has been that he was non-political, but my training isn’t necessarily correct.

Mark Chapter 15:1-10

The problem here is that the real break doesn’t come until verse 20. In fact, it comes right smack in the middle of verse 20. Ergo, any break I make is going to be arbitrary. Since the break has to be arbitrary, I’ll put it right in the middle of the section.

1 Καὶ εὐθὺς πρωῒ συμβούλιον ποιήσαντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ γραμματέων καὶ ὅλον τὸ συνέδριον δήσαντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπήνεγκαν καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ.

And as soon as it was morning, having called together the council, the high priests with the elders and scribes and all the Sanhedrin carried off Jesus having been bound and handed him over to Pilate.

Who the heck is Pilate? I mean, we know, but it’s kind of interesting that Mark feels no compunction to inform the reader. Was Pilate that well known? This would argue for a pre-Markan narrative, composed when Pilate would have been very well known. He was the prefect of Judea for about ten years.

1 Et confestim mane consilium facientes summi sacerdotes cum senioribus et scribis, id est universum concilium, vincientes Iesum duxerunt et tradiderunt Pilato.

2 καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς αὐτῷ λέγει, Σὺ λέγεις.

And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus, answering him said, “You say so.”

OK, in the last chapter, we got the high priests asking Jesus if he was the Christ. Now Pilate is asking him if he’s the King of the Jews.  This title has come out of nowhere. It appears only in Chapter 15. What does it mean?

The political implications of the title are obvious. It could be seen as an affront, or even a threat to the Romans, or to the political peace & stability of the area. The question is: who came up with the title? Is this something that the religious authorities invented, or reported to the Romans? Or does it reflect something the Romans…heard, or suspected? Now, I recognize the connection, or at least the potential connection between Messiah and King in Judaic thought. So, it’s not inconceivable that the high priest asked Jesus if he was the Christ, and then used the term King when reporting this to the Romans. After all, ‘Christ’ was problably not a term that was terribly meaningful to the Romans, but ‘king’ certainly was.

Here’s a possibility: Jesus attracted a crowd. Some soldiers asked what the big deal was. Someone said that he was claiming to be the Messiah. The soldiers ask ‘what’s a messiah?’ The explanation includes the word ‘king’. That’s all the soldiers need, so they haul Jesus off to Pilate for summary judgement. Short, sweet, simple, and wholly within the way the Romans operated.

This is why I think this whole episode makes a lot more sense if Jesus was simply arrested by the Romans. Remember: by the time this was written, almost two generations had passed and the location of the events had been destroyed. Plus, this was very likely a minor incident in the history of the region. As such, there is very little chance that anyone would be able to contradict the account presented, even if they remembered it. By the time of the sack of Jerusalem, the death of a rabble-rouser forty years before would have seemed pretty insignificant. As such, there was likely no collective memory that would have been able to gainsay whatever account the followers of Jesus decided to put forward.

2 Et interrogavit eum Pilatus: “ Tu es rex Iudaeorum? ”. At ille respondens ait illi: “ Tu dicis ”.

3 καὶ κατηγόρουν αὐτοῦ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς πολλά.

And the high priests accused him much.

Of what did they accuse him? That is not a rhetorical question. What was it? Why are there no specifics? If the high priests instigated all of this, why are the charges coming from Pilate, and not from them? That seems to be a significant detail. It’s not a smoking gun by any stretch–there isn’t one–but I think the question needs to be asked and and addressed. I want to hear an inference, or at least a conjecture.

3 Et accusabant eum summi sacerdotes in multis.

4 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος πάλιν ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν λέγων, Οὐκ ἀποκρίνῃ οὐδέν; ἴδε πόσα σου κατηγοροῦσιν.

Pilate again asked him, saying, “Why do you not answer anything (lit = ‘nothing’). Do you not see all they accuse you (of)?”

4 Pilatus autem rursum interrogabat eum dicens: “ Non respondes quidquam? Vide in quantis te accusant ”.

5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκέτι οὐδὲν ἀπεκρίθη, ὥστε θαυμάζειν τὸν Πιλᾶτον.

But Jesus said nothing more. As a result, Pilate was amazed.

For those keeping score at home, this the first time someone has been amazed at Jesus since Chapter 9. It happened five times in Chapters 1-7, once in 8-10, and once in 11-15. (I don’t necessarily count Chapter 16, because there are legitimate questions about whether this was part of the original “Gospel of Mark”.  I will discuss these counts of thematic elements, probably in the overall summary to the gospel. Suffice it to say, I find the thematic counts…interesting, to say the least.

5 Iesus autem amplius nihil respondit, ita ut miraretur Pilatus.

6 Κατὰ δὲ ἑορτὴν  ἀπέλυεν αὐτοῖς ἕνα δέσμιον ὃν παρῃτοῦντο.

By reason of (it) being the festival, he releases to them one of those bound (prisoners) whom they wished.

[ I kept the verb tense of ‘he releases’. Nothing horribly significant, but just another hint about how much interpretation goes into translation. It’s not a situation such as we saw with some of the passages of Paul, where there were significant doctrinal implications for the words chosen, but it’s just a small reminder of the ‘slippage’, of what does get, if not lost, then maybe elided, in translation. ]

Is there any external corroboration for this custom? But then, how would this get made up? Who would think of making it up? Although it does serve the purpose of demonstrating that the crowd had turned on Jesus, and very quickly.

6 Per diem autem festum dimittere solebat illis unum ex vinctis, quem peterent.

7 ἦν δὲ ὁ λεγόμενος Βαραββᾶς μετὰ τῶν στασιαστῶν δεδεμένος οἵτινες ἐν τῇ στάσει φόνον πεποιήκεισαν.

There was he they were called Barabbas, captured with the authors of the insurrection who in the sedition had committed murder.

As far as I can tell from Liddell and Scott, Mark may have coined the word << στασιαστης >>. This is formed from the word <<στασις>> which is the standard Greek term for ‘revolution’. Generally, in Classical times, the word referred to factional strife within a city, in which the pro-democracy faction rose against the pro-oligarch faction (or vice-versa). But then, in Classical times there wasn’t a lot of anti-empire rebellions. So the term here is one who commits <<στασις>> (translit = ‘stasis’). So there apparently had been a recent attempt at rebellion, which would, I believe, bolster my case that the Romans were on edge and not exactly willing to tolerate anyone calling himself “the Christ” because of the word’s latent (at least) political implications. 

One thing I did find interesting based on my lack of knowledge is the name of the insurrectionist: Barabbas. This means ‘son of the father’. A very cursory check verifies this and tells me that ‘Abba’ was a fairly common name at the time, so the name could easily be legitimate. So the name is not as interesting as I first thought. This same cursory look did not tell me if there were any specific incidents around this time which may have been fomented by Barabbas. Overall, Judea in the First Century was a troublesome place; there had been attempts at insurrection after the death of Herod the Great just before the beginning of the Common Era, and there would, of course, be the First Rebellion two generations after Jesus’ death. 

Barabbas was a murderer. Now, Jesus was seeming arrested late Thursday, or early Friday. And he was executed Friday afternoon. IOW, the Romans did not keep him on ice. Barabbas, however, despite being a murderer who had fomented an uprising, or at least a riot, had been in Roman custody for some time. Why the differential? Did the Romans generally keep capital felons in prison for a period before execution? Or did they pretty much execute them on the spot? Now, there may have been efficiency issues; perhaps they waited until they’d accumulated a few prisoners before dispatching a squadron to carry out the execution. The Romans were efficient, after all. And since there were two others executed with Jesus, perhaps the execution had been scheduled for Friday afternoon anyway, since three prisoners had been accumulated. So maybe that’s why there was differential treatment for Jesus and Barabbas. 

Because the other possibility is that there was no Barabbas; it struck me as possible that the episode was invented, again to show how the crowd preferred the release of a murderer over Jesus, whom we were told repeatedly the crowd revered. But, that may not be necessary; after all, perhaps the crowd preferred the release of Barabbas because he was sort of a hero among the anti-Roman faction, while Jesus was a nobody. So again, we are presented with details that perhaps raise more questions than they answer.

Finally, it appears that the evidence for the release of a prisoner at the festival is pretty much the four canonical gospels, and the later Gospel of Peter.

7 Erat autem qui dicebatur Barabbas, vinctus cum seditiosis, qui in seditione fecerant homicidium.

8 καὶ ἀναβὰς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρξατο αἰτεῖσθαι καθὼς ἐποίει αὐτοῖς.

And the crowd standing began to request that he do for them as such (as he was accustomed).

I guess we’re supposed to understand that..what? The crowd suddenly files in? Where? In later gospels, we are given a much better sense of the scene; here, we really don’t get that. Again, does this indicate that the audience would just know how the process worked? Honestly, do we know how the process worked? I know what I’ve seen in any number of movies about this episode, but how would this have worked normally? 

Or are the details sketchy because the person composing the tale didn’t really understand how it all happened? This has to be considered, I believe. Just as we are told that Mark gets some of the geography wrong, so perhaps he gets some of the procedural details wrong. Or maybe the details became garbled via verbal transmission. While stories do tend to grow, the separation from reality also grows with time. Events, actions, are misunderstood so the description gets scrambled, so it makes even less sense, so the description gets even more abstract.

Or, maybe I’m just ignorant?

8 Et cum ascendisset turba, coepit rogare, sicut faciebat illis.

9 ὁ δὲ Πιλᾶτος ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς λέγων, Θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Ἰουδαίων;

But Pilate answered them saying, “Do you wish (that) I release to you the King of the Jews?”

In one of the blurbs for the book Zealot, or perhaps it was Aslan himself, the comment was made that the inscription “INRI” was not meant ironically. That the Romans were not, generally, acting ironically when they carried out a death sentence. Maybe. Sure sounds ironic here, though, doesn’t it?

9 Pilatus autem respondit eis et dixit: “ Vultis dimittam vobis regem Iudaeorum? ”.

10 ἐγίνωσκεν γὰρ ὅτι διὰ φθόνον παραδεδώκεισαν αὐτὸν οἱἀρχιερεῖς.

For he knew that because of jealousy the high priests handed him over.

Pilate is here conveniently being excused for what is to follow.

10 Sciebat enim quod per invidiam tradidissent eum summi sacerdotes.

Not the worst place for an arbitrary break. And the next section will be published almost simultaneously with this one, so there won’t be a wait to see how this continues.